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Stringfellow on Worship and Witness

January 2, 2012
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As a an anabaptist Presbyterian minister I often find myself thinking about the relation between the church’s Eucharistic worship and it’s witness, which is not necessarily the same as its gathered and dispersed life. William Stringfellow has this to say in Free in Obedience (pp. 123-124)

“When the congregation disperses and Christians go out into the world, the conflict between the Church becomes very explicitly, so to speak, personalised. A Christian lives from day to day in the tension between Church and world, between Christ and Caesar, between grace and law, between salvation and sin, between life and death, and between freedom and bondage.

To live in that tension worship in the congregation and witness in the world must be integral to one another. There is no solitary witness of a Christian in the world, isolated from the congregation, because the sacramental worship in the congregation is the comprehensive and exemplary Christian witness in the world. Any so-called Christian action in the world is void in the inception if it is cut off from the informing support, edification, love and nurture of the celebration of the gospel in the congregation. In reality the Christian bears the tension between the gospel and the world in radical and transforming witness only because he participate in the event of the congregation. It is that event which enables him to witness while dispersed in the world….”

“When the congregation worships God, God is vindicated before all men; the world may see who God is and believe what he has done for the world in Christ. In the Holy Communion, the new community in Christ, the Christian society is manifest in history as over against all other nations and all the societies men make as a witness that the true hope for community is in Christ” (122-123)

[italic s mine]

What do you think? Does Stringfellow claim too much for the liturgical event of Holy Communion? Is it primarily witness or reception? I don’t mean to suggest that these things are mutually exclusive, for it seems to me that the line about ‘worship and witness’ being ‘integral to one another’ is just right.

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